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Woodland Garden Has Subtleties

This article was first published on 17 Oct 2018.

Fritillaria thunbergii

Fritillaria thunbergii

The Rhododendron Dell at Dunedin Botanic Garden is bursting with spring colour as the rhododendron season gets into full stride and spring bulbs continue to delight. However, it’s worth stopping to appreciate some of the more understated plants on display.

In the peat garden at the south end of the Cherry Walk are different groups of Fritillaria showing that subtle colouring and refined form have their own appeal while contrasting with the low mounds of dark green dwarf rhododendrons around them.

Fritillaria thunbergii, pictured, is from Asia.  Slender grey-green stems can reach up to 60cm tall.  At the top they change to purplish at the top where new foliage emerges as delicate, curling tendrils, particular to the species, before extending to form whorls of narrow pointed leaves.

Greenish-yellow bell-shaped flowers, with purplish brown, ladder-like markings on the inside, nod amongst the emerging tendrils.

Nearby, Fritillaria acmopetala from Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon,has shorter stems and green-brown striped bell flowers. In front of those, F. meleagris 'Charon'’ growing to about 30cm at the edge of the peat garden, is shorter still. This is a dark form of the distinctive snake’s head fritillary with deep purple, chequered flowers.

All enjoy the peat garden’s well drained sheltered site in the sun.   Their graceful charm asks for a more considered appreciation than some of their vibrant neighbours, contributing to the full spectrum of allure in the spring woodland garden.